A 17-year-old boy’s attempt to save a chunk of money on airfare an turned into a travel nightmare after American Airlines discovered he was planning to “skiplag,” or disembark at an intermediate airport stop, a practice that violates the airline’s conditions of carriage, though often a flight to a more distant airport may be cheaper than a flight to an intermediate airport, perhaps due to factors like local airports having higher taxes and fees.
Skiplagging, also known as “hidden city” or “throwaway ticketing,” involves booking a ticket with a layover and intentionally skipping the final leg of the journey to save money.
The teenager, flying alone from Gainesville, Florida, home of the University of Florida, to New York City, had his parents arrange for him to deplane during the layover in Charlotte, where he lives with his family. Unaware of the airline’s policy against skiplagging, the young traveler faced a challenging situation.
Teen did not know skiplagging was banned by American Airlines
His mother, Lisa Parsons, said her kid had no knowledge of the practice being frowned upon by American Airlines. “My kid was easily intimidated as it was his first time flying alone. He didn’t think that it was something that was frowned upon,” she explained.
Upon reaching the check-in area, the teenager was confronted by several American Airlines employees, and his boarding pass was withheld. His ticket was immediately canceled by the airline, and he was left stranded at the airport with no alternative flight offered.
“They basically left him to sit at the airport for a while. Several flights left for Charlotte, but they didn’t offer him an opportunity to get on any of these flights,” Parsons shared. Consequently, she had to purchase a new direct ticket, costing over $400, for her son to reach Charlotte.
American Airlines has been explicit about its disapproval of skiplagging, as it exploits and circumvents ticket fares. According to the airline’s conditions of carriage, purchasing a ticket without intending to fly all flights to secure lower fares is prohibited.
Parsons admitted to using Skiplagged, a controversial website that reveals hidden city tickets, to find cheaper flights in the past. However, she stressed that their intention was not to cheat the airline but to find affordable and convenient travel options. The Parsons family, she added, had taken only three flights in a decade and had never skipped any of them before.
American Airlines had previously warned passengers about cracking down on skiplagging. In recent years, they have taken action against others attempting to employ the cost-saving strategy, removing frequent-flyer program status and even billing individuals for the practice.
What is skiplagging?
Broadly speaking, skiplagging is the art of exploiting certain flight routes by booking a multistop flight where one of the layovers is your intended destination rather than booking a more expensive ticket directly to that destination. Upon reaching the stopover airport, you end your trip there by just getting off the plane and walking away, skipping the following legs of the itinerary. You may have heard of the website Skiplagged.com which allows regular folks to book these tickets.
For example, a passenger might book a flight between New York and Las Vegas with a layover in Dallas. In this instance, Dallas would be the intended destination and where the passenger would vacate, cutting the journey short and not continuing to Las Vegas.
So, why would a passenger do this?
It’s counterintuitive, but in certain instances, this controversial tactic can bring notable cash savings. This is because flight pricing doesn’t always follow the logical assumption that a longer trip should be more expensive. Instead, the cost of a journey is often based on how popular the destination or route is — especially if it’s nonstop — and the price at which the airlines have decided people will buy tickets.
You may not face criminal charges for skiplagging or hidden city ticketing, but it’s a violation of most airline policies. If an airline catches you skiplagging, in most scenarios it will punish you as per the terms and conditions of the ticket you’re flying on. The punishments could range from financial penalties to restrictions on future booked travel.
In some instances, skiplagging passengers have been taken to court by the airline. In 2019, Lufthansa sued a passenger after they paid 657 euros for a business-class ticket from Oslo to Seattle via Frankfurt.
On the return flight, the passenger skipped the Oslo leg, flying on from Frankfurt to Berlin on a different ticket instead. Lufthansa claimed the ticket should have cost 2,769 euros and demanded a repayment of 2,112 euros plus interest.
The court ultimately sided with the passenger but, notably, agreed the airline’s case for suing was valid. Lufthansa lost due to the technical details of the new price calculation, which the court viewed as lacking transparency. The case could have easily gone the other way. Courts in Spain have reached similar conclusions in cases involving Iberia.
This current precedent puts the law in favor of the passenger. However, it’s not clear cut, and court battles can see ramped-up legal fees that most passengers can’t afford to challenge. Moreover, even if you aren’t breaking the law, the airline can decide it doesn’t wish to serve you as a passenger any longer, wipe out your frequent flyer accounts. You could forfeit all your hard-earned points.
It could even ban you from the airline.
In short, skiplagging isn’t breaking the law. However, if you’re caught, airlines will not be happy that you are costing them money and could opt to try to penalize you or challenge you in court. Regardless of how you’d fare in a court challenge, getting to that point could be both lengthy and costly.
Sources: Hindustan Times, The Points Guy.